A Woman With Disability and Her Plight in Flight
I am a Disability Activist,
I have traveled six months non-stop without assistance in USA,
I am fine by my standards despite my spinal cord condition.
I have polio with scoliosis for which I got operated and inserted spinal implants.
I have traveled not only in most primitive rural areas but all kinds of weathers and conditions.
I am a practicing advocate with bar council of Andhra Pradesh
I am a social worker based @Visakhapatnam, managing and running a hostel and five tribal hamlet schools, an indo-us university joint project.
But, When two times I traveled in India via King Fisher & Spice Jet respectively dated August’21st ,2011 and October 4th ,2011 has given me a scare towards flying. My pleasure became panic, my spine became my best support and worst enemy..!
I pondered many days after that… Did I do any wrong? Haven’t properly made my reservations? What went wrong..? after Ms. Jeeja Ghosh case and other cases pouring over and over now.. Now I know what went wrong or what might be the other way..
Ok friends.. let me go into the story.. of How a Person with Disability Travel in domestic airlines in India..
How we book our tickets?….Able-bodied persons, disabled does it thru online.. No..you got me wrong.. There is no provision for web-based booking for persons with disabilities in Indian Websites like www.spicejet.com or www.jetlite.com etc.. or for that matter travel websites like www.yaatra.com or www.makemytrip.com etc.. they ask you only these things..are you male or female? Age? Address?.. and credit or debit card details.
Then how do we book tickets? Just like anyone.. and then we have to call the help line about our disability, if you need wheelchair assistance that also have to be mentioned thru that helpline only. I remember doing it many times for patients of High BP, old age etc.. in addition to Persons with Disabilities. And we have to tell them what kind of assistance we needed. At some airports they ask “are you carrying your own wheelchair?? Post modernization of airports some hassles was lessened.
So this is how we book tickets and have to make at least twice requests in advance that somebody in a wheelchair is trying to fly on the said time and date!!
Now we have come to airport on a wheelchair/crutches/calipers.. Ok..Now what we do? First we go through the baggage; there you fight with the baggage people there to allow your own customized wheelchair (either manual or power) in the cabin. Another argument regarding not to transfer to airport wheelchair to avoid maximum number of transfers. After lot of suspicious looks, you enter the security area. There all your charm and fighting spirit is of no use.. they say.. “ sorry madam.. we have to screen you and your wheelchair separately!! And you can’t take your wheelchair near aircraft without being screened!!.. ( for me a transfer takes 10 minutes and pain too.. another problem is once I sit I cant sit and stand many times..) different length of chairs are not suitable to me. So I will stand till they screen me in cubicle and get my wheelchair screened separately thru a luggage channel. Just the wheelchair screening process takes 15 minutes to one hour…!! I got to stand till the wheel chair comes screened. Then after all these two arguments I can sit in my own wheelchair.. am I not pampered??
Oh! Forgot.. At some airports, we are forced to sign an indemnity bond as well..! in the name of ability, whatever happens to us, airlines won’t take any responsibility. This is in addition to showing them your disability certificate that declares what assistive devices you are using.
Now we came to air-craft by a single person lifting me into air bus that takes passenger to aircraft. Sometimes they do it from front. Sometimes back.. with an expression in their faces to deal with troubled passenger. The bus moves before you apply breaks (of course no functional breaks for most airport wheelchairs) last time when the bus moved me with wheelchair kissed the rod that stands as support to other passengers (don’t ask about my spine yet!)
So we came near to air craft, someone brings an aisle chair (carrying chair for persons with wheelchairs, which is narrow and can go inside the aircraft, when this chair is not available, airlines will give us an option to be lifted manually, by an untrained staff.. no other option) As I can make one or two steps with calipers.. I am saved of these pains. But for those who can’t no other option for dignity and saving grace!!
Inside the Aircraft:
Inside the aircraft, I have never been given front row seats as they have more leg space, which can be a great facilitator for me. The reason for denial is security reasons… a disabled passenger are not supposed to sit in the front row.
So they allot some seat.. if we are lucky we get the aisle seat so that we can adjust ourselves easily into the tiny seat. If not, when the hand rests between the seats are locked or jammed, it’s like hell to squeeze your body into middle seat!
Now you can breathe in.. but don’t think of going to rest room whatever the length of flight is. Now you can worry about your wheelchair that you left at the steps of the air-craft. No air lines, so far, obliged to my request of having my 18 inch foldable wheelchair as cabin baggage. I have to declare that as luggage only. Sometimes upon me and my husband’s repeated requests and threats they will put a fragile tag to the wheelchair and assure me verbally that “ Nothing will happen to my wheelchair..! It will be safe..!” but nothing in writing…no one wants responsibility.
So if you repeat the same in reverse order it becomes the return journey…now what the airlines have to learn:
Respect the persons with disabilities as consumers
Have transparent policies
Give them dignified flying experience
Don’t estimate them by their appearance… see the functionality of mind.
Look at their ability not the disability
We need dignity and support…not just pity in the name of over-protection
Here is how I am inspired to write this..! Experts who are working tirelessly towards the change of two things.. ACCESS & ATTITUDE! Despite the hardships they are facing..Please read their links and advices.
Ms.Jeeja Ghosh (who started the biggest whirr)
Mr. Subhash Chandra Vasisht:
Ms. Sai Padma
Now it’s time for Solidarity…Time for Garner Support.. friends..
WE ARE PASSENGERS TO AIRLINES…NOT A LUGGAGE WHICH THEY CAN THROW..
WE NEED DIGNITY AND RESPECT..!
WE DEMAND OUR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS!!
To sum up all these things.. when I am fuming with pain and anguish about the way I am treated at these whole experience.. A porter who lifted my wheelchair, casually said.. “ be thankful madam..atleast you are able to fly??” Now my question to all educated and policy makers who talks about inclusive world.. Do they think of us in the same way..? are we just a hapless creatures still shown only pity??? How inclusive is your minds?? is the question.. that everyone have to put themselves..!
Please tell me when you know the answer.. and please read it through and leave a comment..!!
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